Do you want to be successful? Of course you do - and there are always several things you can do to ensure results - but you will NEVER be successful in much if you're not an effective communicator. No matter what your job title is, you still exert leadership in some way or the other and you still have to communicate in some way or the other. Learn the things you can do right now to improve your communication competence.
In a recent survey, respondents were asked about their top training priorities. The conductors of the survey wanted to find out what kinds of skills and education would most likely lead to success on the job. The respondents said their top four priorities were leadership development, communication skills, supervisory training, and project management.
When the conductor of the survey repeated the same survey the next year, their respondents said their top four priorities were leadership development, critical thinking, project management, and communication skills. There were some changes in their priorities - which was to be expected. But the interesting thing is this ... almost every study for dozens of years has placed leadership development and communication skills amongst the four most important things you have to do - if you want to be successful in your job.
Don't cop out and think the research does not apply to you. These two top priorities are too important for you to ignore. In this article, we'll explore ways to become a more effective communicator:
Remember the fact that you are ALWAYS selling something
That statement may rub you the wrong way. Indeed, you may be like many people who object to the very word 'selling'.
I hope you're not one of them, because if you are, you are doomed to a life of ineffective communication. You see, the truth is - every time you and I communicate, we are selling. Some of us sell products. Some of us sell ideas. Some of us sell viewpoints. And we ALL sell ourselves. In every arena of our career and personal lives - management, business, education, health care, government, and our home lives - we are engaged in selling something.
Once we realise that, it suddenly hits home that we had better get serious about communicating effectively if we want to others to hear us, to understand us, and be influenced by us. It is the very essence of success - getting others to 'buy into' or 'agree with' what we have to say. It is the very essence of being an effective leader, manager, supervisor, team leader or team member. We all want our listeners to make decisions in our favour.
So what does that take?
- Successful communication starts with a clear objective
In other words, it starts with a bit of pre-thought. You don't just spout-off something without giving it a bit of thought. And yet that is exactly what ineffective communicators do. With ignorant pride they'll say things like, "I just call it the way I see it" ... or ... "I just shoot from the hip".
An effective presentation or a meaningful conversation is always preceded by an objective. And it doesn't matter if you plan on talking ten minutes or ten hours. Before you start talking, you need to think about who is in your audience and the effect you want to have on them. You need to be aware of what you want to accomplish in your presentation to a prospective client, or what you want to accomplish as you sit down with an employee to discuss their performance.
One of the greatest orators and writers of the 19th century - Ralph Waldo Emerson - said, "The aim of all public speaking is to move the listeners to take action of some kind, action that they would not have taken in the absence of the talk". I would say the same thing is true of all forms of communication. You need to be aware as to how you want to move the listeners ... whether that be in their minds, hearts, or behaviours.
- Successful communication is characterised by passion
People are more often influenced by the depth of their passion than the height of their logic. Indeed, that very lesson was drilled into my head by my high school and college speech teachers. I remember when they played recordings of speeches by Dr. Kenneth McFarland, who was considered the finest public speaker in America during the 1950s to the 1980s. I was enthralled with his passion. I couldn't help but listen.
Years later, as a Professor of Communications, I read McFarland's book entitled Eloquence in Public Speaking. The strange thing is ... he gave very little attention to speaking techniques. His central message was that the key to effective communication is the passion that a person brings to their subject.
I saw how true that was when I listened to Wally 'Famous' Amos speak. He started with very little in life but went on to build an extraordinarily successful chocolate cookie business. He now devotes a great deal of his time and money on helping less fortunate people, especially those with literacy problems. His talk was excellent, but the main reason for its excellence was the fact that he spoke from his heart. He spoke with deep concern about the problem, not only for the people who were illiterate but also for the American nation that would lose its future and competitive edge if we allowed our kids to get by without learning how to read.
As a former Speech Professor, I could have critiqued his presentation. I could have shown him a few pointers on how to improve the structure of his presentation and the style of his delivery. He could have been more polished in some ways. But you know what? None of that mattered. He was so passionate that every one of us listened with rapt attention.
Could the same thing be said about your communication? That you're so passionate that people can't help but listen and - hopefully - respond in the way you would like?
- Successful communication takes place when you emotionally connect with your listeners
Unfortunately, too many people don't 'get' this critical point. They don't understand that we buy on emotion and justify with fact.
We may be very attracted to a certain car and we may really want a certain car. Indeed, we may end up buying it. But then we start to list all the reasons it was a good, logical, and correct decision. We can almost always find a few facts to justify our emotional decisions.
There's no shame in admitting we're emotional creatures and that our emotions have a powerful driving influence on everything we do, think, and choose. In fact, it's foolish not to admit it. The truth is, if you want to reach, persuade or motivate people, you have to make emotional contact with them.
To a large extent, your success will depend on your communication effectiveness. Don't leave your communication skills to chance. The more you improve in this area, the better off you'll be in every other area of your life. Decide today that you are going to become a better, more effective communicator. Then write down 3 things you will do to accomplish that goal.